Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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November Zero November Romeo India

USN SEABEES - N0NRI, Port Hueneme, CA

CE2 Greg Richie, 11/83 - 8/87, N0NRI, 31st Naval Construction Regiment

For US Navy Seabees assigned to the Mobile Construction Battalions, the MARS station at Port Hueneme was classified as "Fleet Support Billet".  You had to apply and be accepted for such a billet.  Only 10 - 20 of these billets were available each homeport and competition was tough since there were at least 100 - 200 men applying for them.  I was an electrician which the higher command types thought would fit perfect with radio gear.  I went to N0NRI in November of 1983 and stayed through May of 1984 on the fleet support billet.  I was up for re-enlistment and decided that I like MARS so much I re-enlisted just to stay at MARS.  After re-enlistment, my shore duty for the 31st NCR was also at the MARS station and took me through to August 1987 when they told me I had to leave.

My greatest experience was the chance to expand a system with new technologies such as select call and experimentation with solar power panels.  Robert Ratliff was able to secure 13 solar power photovoltaic panel systems from the US Department of Energy, China Lake, with each one designed for the specific latitude that each SEABEE MARS station was located.  We were able to adapt the 12 volt output units to the radio gear and set them up at the different sites around the pacific.  I was lucky enough to be able to travel to 60% of those sites to inspect each system and discuss with the operators how it was working.  When the internet came along, MARS within the SeaBees died, but not before I was able to be a part of something very special.  I traveled back to N0NRI in April of 1995 and the MARS station had been dismantled.  I was very sad to see someplace that I truly called home for nearly four years, gone.  I literally lived at the station.  I parked my van behind the station, slept there, and went to the barracks only to shower and change uniforms.

We participated in the relief effort during the Mexico City earthquake of 1985.  We also set up a complete, operational mobile station so that NMCB-3 could travel to a remote island (I think it was Kwajalein) for a CAT (Civic Action Team) operation in early 1987.

I will never forget my nearly 4-year experience working with the civilian operators who, for reasons unknown, gave themselves selfishly to the upkeep of the MARS system.  They truly are the ones who need to be thanked for making MARS what it once was and still is to some extent.  Without their dedication and steadfast willingness to pass traffic during all hours of the day and night, a ton (AND I DO MEAN A TON!) of MARSGRAMS and phone patches would not have been completed.  The military operators in the SeaBees did this as a "side job."  But the civilians did most of the work.  My hat is off to them! 

There are so many people I worked with during those four years I wish I could name each one and give their call sign.  TWO people in particular stand out.  One is Robert Ratliff, N0BKE who now lives in Grants Pass, OR.  Without him I might never have re-enlisted or stayed in MARS.  He saw something in me that I never realized I myself and ALWAYS pushed me to use my computer skills to drag the SEABEE MARS system into the 20th Century.  With his straight-forward way about him, he could see a person for what they could become, not what used to be or were at that moment.  The second is Rick at N0GKF out of PA.  He assisted a lot of my operators when we needed it.  Even though he was 2500 miles away he did what he could.  Finally, I would have to say that our MARINE counterparts, specifically N0MSD, N0MTP, N0MHK, N0MCP were also elite operators in MARS.  They had an MOS specifically for this area and they were dedicated to the same service that had become standard in Navy-Marine Corp MARS operations.         

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